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John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN


...say he writes some drat good fantasy.

Young, dynamic, and working on a pretty solid rate of more or less a book a year so far, Joe Abercrombie writes inventive, nasty, blackly comic fantasy novels. So far, he's written six books, all set in the same world, which at first glance is your kind of standard medieval-on-the-cusp-of-technological-advance-and-also-some-magic setting. With this setting, and with some familiar tropes, he crafts something wonderful and unpredictable, and with some great swearing. Most importantly, it's not a twenty-book series that he'll die before completing; there's a completed trilogy and three self-contained books in the same setting, although they should really be read in publication order if you mean to read any at all because there is overlap with some of the characters and the worldbuilding from previous books is sometimes necessary for full enjoyment. Joe is currently working on a second trilogy in the same setting, although we have yet to get any proper details of what it will entail.

Here follows a brief guide to his books so far.


The First Law Trilogy




Where everyone should start with Abercrombie, and taken as a whole it's probably his strongest work. Thematically excellent and very consistent plot-wise. Follows three main characters: a veteran uncivilised warrior, Logen Ninefingers; a spoilt dandy cavalry officer, Jezal dan Luthar; and a horribly crippled torturer, Sand dan Glokta. Their trials and travails eventually interlink against a backdrop of escalating chaos, invasions, power grabs, and a quest for a magical artefact which isn't quite what it seems.


Best Served Cold


Set about five years after the events of The First Law, and with a few returning characters, this is however mostly self-contained. Monza Murcatto, veteran mercenary of the civil wars in Styria, is betrayed by her employer and left for dead. She vows revenge, and poo poo goes down. A little bit of a retread of The First Law's themes at times, this is nonetheless a great book, an unrelentingly bleak rollercoaster of death and destruction and betrayals. Contains probably one of the most shocking and kinetic bits of writing I've come across - the fight in the bordello where all hell breaks loose.


The Heroes


Another standalone novel, set about three years after the events of Best Served Cold. It covers a single battle from the perspective of participants and ancillaries on both sides, and is about as powerfully anti-war as a fantasy book could be. It closely follows three main characters - Curnden Craw, Bremer dan Gorst, and Prince Calder - although there are a multitude of other viewpoints too. In Abercrombie's own words: "Think Lord of the Rings meets A Bridge Too Far, with a sprinkling of Band of Brothers and Generation Kill." This is fairly accurate, all told. Probably my own personal favourite of his books so far.


Red Country


Abercrombie's take on the western genre, and heavily influenced by everything from Unforgiven to Blood Meridian. Mostly following Shy South and her stepfather Lamb's efforts to get back her younger brother and sister, kidnapped from their frontier homestead in a violent raid, it gives different perspectives on several returning characters and definitely shows Abercrombie's writing craft at its strongest yet.


Joe has a website, of course, which can be found at http://www.joeabercrombie.com/. He regularly blogs on such varied topics as his own books, aspects of writing or the fantasy genre, whisky, TV, and video games.

Let's keep plot discussion in spoilers, since this thread should work for those of us who've read the books and those who are merely intrigued about/being browbeaten into reading them.

John Charity Spring fucked around with this message at Apr 6, 2013 around 13:13

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John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN


Mr.48 posted:

Well hes a right stinkyhole to his characters

Just finished the First Law trilogy and holy crap, if you think Martin is too much of a dick to his characters you aint seen nothing yet.

Sort of. With Abercrombie, it tends to make a lot more sense, it's generally not just bad stuff happening for no good reason. It's for thematic reasons and it's usually as a result of the character's own actions. Of course, the end of Last Argument of Kings where Collem West gets magical radiation poisoning and will probably die was a bit harsh, but he's the exception.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN


Regarding The Heroes, Abercrombie's let slip some interesting information on the characters and setting, which I only saw today.

In the comments thread of his progress report for March, he has this to say on the number of returning characters:

quote:

Lots of familiar faces. More so than last time, in fact. Among the central cast are Bremer dan Gorst and Prince Calder. In significant roles are Caul Shivers, Black Dow, Kroy, Jalenhorm, and Bayaz. Plus a galaxy of more minor returning players.

The central cast that he mentions are definitely going to be main characters subjected to the close third person stuff.

And as to setting:

quote:

About three years after Best Served Cold, so about eight after the First Law (I have more accurate numbers, but not to hand).

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN


Bummey posted:

I don't know, I'm not entirely sure I'd like to see Logen again. I like him, but I think his story ended well enough that bringing him in again might ruin it.

I'm getting the same sort of feeling with Best Served Cold. I know it's ... right for certain people to be where they are and enter into the story, but I can't help but feel that he's pulling in tried and true characters just because they're familiar. I don't disapprove, there are plenty of new characters thrown into the mix.

I know what you mean. I actually thought that list of characters was just Joe joking around, at first, since it seemed like he was throwing everyone into the mix. Still, we'll be having a good number of new main characters and returning characters are probably in the minority. Also because it's about a battle a lot of the returning characters are probably going to die, so there's that!

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN


Evfedu posted:

Last Argument of Kings spoilers: West had to die, from the moment he beat the poo poo out of his sister. Pushing Ladisla off a cliff just kinda sealed the deal, the man was just too angry to live. It was pretty fitting that he was eaten away from the inside by a wasting illness, even.

I agree here, but I still felt really sorry for West. He was a genuinely good man who tried to change and sort of managed it, unlike Logen who is an awful man who tried to change and absolutely couldn't. Although Logen when he's trying to change is pretty great; his character throughout Before They Are Hanged, when you can mostly forget who he actually is (or don't entirely know it yet), is probably the most likeable of anyone in The First Law.

Regarding Glokta, the torture scenes with him made me really quite uncomfortable. There are a few things that I just need to see mentioned and it sets me off - any sort of injury to teeth or fingernails (particularly teeth) gets me shivering in animal sympathy - but I think the absolute worst is the torture whereby the victim's arm is chopped off by degrees. It's the brutal, escalating horror of it, going from minor injury to mortal wound, that makes it very hard for me to read. Starting off the torture with what is essentially an over-enthusiastic trimming of the fingernails is a twisted bit of genius.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN


That reminds me of another thing that I really liked about The First Law: the cycle and symmetry involved with Pike's fate. Learning that he was the fat merchant from TBI was a huge surprise for me and I found it immensely satisfying.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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The thing to remember about both Shivers and Logen is that neither is a good man, though they occasionally want to be.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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Almost certainly. Good to know that Ferro is prospering after a fashion!

vvv I agree with that mostly. I really enjoyed Best Served Cold, but it is a bit of a thematic retread. Hopefully The Heroes will break some new ground.

John Charity Spring fucked around with this message at May 5, 2010 around 12:10

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN


A Nice Boy posted:

I'm about 150 pages into book 2, and so far I'm liking it more than book 1. It's much faster paced, and gets you into the characters at a nice clip. I loved book 1, but felt like it meandered around a bit early before finding focus in the second half.

Abercrombie essentially uses The Blade Itself to set everything up, then the next two books ratchet up the pace considerably as all the set-up gets its pay-off.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN


Mr.48 posted:

Just finished Best Served Cold and was impressed by the sheer amount of backstabbing.

One thing I'm not certain of though: Whats the deal with Shenkt? Clearly he's an eater like Sulfur and refers to having the same masters once upon a time, so is he an ex-apprentice of Bayaz or what?

Shenkt is one of Bayaz's followers. Well, originally. Now he hates him of course.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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Khatib posted:

Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles

Brilliant books. Cornwell is generally a good author although his most famous books, the Sharpe series, vary from formulaic and mediocre to really very good. This trilogy about King Arthur is easily his best, though. Recommended to anyone.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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The first image of the rough UK cover for The Heroes has been released. Still scheduled for release on the 11th of January.



I wonder just how terrible the US cover will be?

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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I agree, no more Logen. Or at least no 'prequel' for Logen.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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Juaguocio posted:

I was reading ASoIaF, but that's not going to be done anytime soon, so I started the Malazan books.

But that series isn't done either, so I started Tad Williams' Shadow series, believing it to be a completed trilogy.

Not so! One more book remains to be published, so, desperate for more fantasy, I grabbed The Blade Itself and Before They Are Hanged from my local bookstore. I'm very impressed by Abercrombie's characters and his sardonic writing style, which is such a breath of fresh air in a genre dominated by heavy-handed philosophizing and needless detail. I'm used to the brutality of modern fantasy, but I've already been shocked by a few moments in this series (I almost had to stop reading when West lost his temper with Ardee).

Now restock Last Argument of Kings, dammit!

You've come home. Put your feet up and enjoy the cruelty of an unthinking universe raining down hell on all protagonists.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN


A Nice Boy posted:

You may want to read BSC...Some HUGE poo poo happens to Shivers which changes his character quite a lot, and he's in The Heroes, too. So if you've read the original trilogy, post BSC Shivers is going to be really weird to you.

Yeah, read BSC first. You advance copy gently caress.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN


The writing only improves from there. I loved The Blade Itself at the time but the first half of the book, on re-read, is lacking the tightness of what Abercrombie writes later.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN


I think Abercrombie gets the balance right. He's clearly got a lot of stuff figured out for his own use, and that includes his own maps so he can plot out the events, but he only gives the reader as much as is necessary for the story.

This works a lot better for me than fantasy epics that insist on telling you the history of every village and so on.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN


That map pre-dates Best Served Cold, which actually gave us an accurate map of Styria. Post-BSC, this map was made by someone calling themselves Scubamarco:



It's more accurate (Westport is no longer in Gurkhul) but it's for the same given value of accuracy that we have for all Abercrombie's geography except Styria.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN




The utterly gorgeous cover for The Heroes has been revealed. Look at that drat battle map!

Several features of the battlefield bring to mind battles like Waterloo, Hastings, and even Arnhem. This battle's got it all.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

ACTIVATE THE QUEEN


Styria as 15th/16th century Italy is incredibly obvious once you read Best Served Cold. Abercrombie specifically used Italian wars and mercenary bands as inspiration for it.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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Fantastic news. The great thing is that you know he'll get them done, too.

My anticipation for The Heroes is pretty high at this point. Just wish I could make it to his Edinburgh book signing.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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IRQ posted:

Do we still need to spoiler tag? I will but it seems pointless after 14 pages for books that have been out years.

Aye, keep spoiler tagging. There are new people coming into the thread all the time and it's nice to keep it welcoming.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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I've decided to delay my purchase of the book until the 10th of February, as I'll be able to get a signed copy of it from the man himself. I can wait until then.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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I picked up The Heroes in Edinburgh on Thursday, at Abercrombie's own book signing. Got the chance to talk to him a bit, and he's a genuinely nice man. The kind of guy you're glad is successful, very self-deprecating. We talked briefly about the process of writing/getting published ("It's easy to get published if you're good; I suppose that's why I had so much trouble") and about the influences on The Heroes and the general appeal of tragic, futile military fiascos. Got a bit of a personalised message on my copy, too, which I was well chuffed with.

Just finished reading The Heroes right now. And, well. A fantastic book. Exhausting, but as powerful an anti-war statement as any book I've read, and utterly convincing. Abercrombie could be writing about an actual medieval battle (with a dash of Napoleonic warfare), and the course of events is spellbinding throughout. Some chapters in particular - such as 'Casualties' - are just dizzying, and I'm envious as hell that he wrote that sort of thing first. The genius of the book, like Len Deighton's Bomber, is that it makes you care about numerous characters on both sides of a conflict. And then takes great delight in killing them off, of course, highlighting the futility and waste of the whole thing. Complaints about lack of overall Bayaz-versus-Khalul plot advancement don't seem to make much sense, to me. This is a book about war and suffering and doing the right thing. The themes are what matter, not some grand story arc.

Some things that stood out for me, then:

Calder was instantly sympathetic, which surprised me greatly. The scenes with Seff early on seemed to be drawing greatly from Abercrombie's own experiences (his wife's pregnant again, I believe) and were genuinely sweet, which is maybe a first in his books.
The aforementioned 'Casualties' chapter. Stunningly constructed. Particularly Rose's 'friendly fire'. The later 'Chains of Command' chapter, which had a similar structure but followed Kroy's order to Vallimir, was also great.
Red Beck. That was a hell of a gutwrenching punchline to that black business.
Finree's various travails were excellent. I expected to dislike her at first, as the slightly false relationship with her husband rubbed me the wrong way a bit somehow, but she's one of the most sympathetic in the book.
Bremer dan Gorst is the biggest poo poo of the lot of them. Despicable man. And yet I still had some sympathy for him, as he was just that pathetic.
Black Dow apprenticed as a potter. Surprisingly moving.
There were two things that were very predictable - the nature of Bayaz' experiment (I guessed it after seeing it on the cover) and the 'scarecrow spears' that Calder used to deter the First Cavalry. Didn't really mind either of them though. I was plenty surprised by the rest of what went on.
Stranger-Come-Knocking and his weird obsession with civilisation... amazing.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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Bizob posted:

The simple fact that "Heros Die" is cited along with the First Law and Malazan in that article is almost enough to get me to overcome the shame that would come with buying something with that awful cover. Can anyone tell me if its any good?

I've not read it but one of my friends - whose opinion on books I trust completely, and hasn't steered me wrong yet - read it due to all the praise it was getting and completely loathed it. Said it was one of the worst-written books he'd read, bankrupt of any virtues.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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I enjoyed the comment extolling the Randian virtues of Goodkind's books.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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Joe has posted a lengthy rejoinder on his blog. A choice extract:

quote:

If you feel your mind and culture might collapse under the weight of a surprising ending involving an unpleasant wizard, a rubbish king and a couple of swear words, it seems to me you really need to dig them some deeper foundations.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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Not really? The battle is pretty much a composite of Hastings, Waterloo, Arnhem, and any number of other famous battles. With a bunch of other stuff added in too.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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Bummey posted:

Gross, it almost sounds like a synthesized voice. That voice from those stupid videos that are all over the place now.

Hahaha, that's spot on.

Really interested in finding out what Abercrombie is going to do with a Western theme in this fantasy universe. It doesn't seem to be the best fit, at first sight.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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Aye, that bit was quite telegraphed but awesome nonetheless. Dow's posturing to Calder really did get across a sense of power and how loving scary he really was, then Shivers sticks him one. Perfect.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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Evfedu posted:

Got to:
"I was a potter, the clay made my hands so soft, would you believe it? But then the wars came and things... happened"
And I'm blubbing like a girl. Then Red Beck goes home and holy poo poo I literally have to stop reading.

Neither of these bits had me actually crying or anything, but the 'potter' bit did give me a lump in my throat. I was surprised by just how moving that simple sentence was.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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I always saw Black Dow as being Northern Irish, personally.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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There was definitely a hint of that in that scene, except that Bayaz does not, I am fairly sure, break the second law. He's happy enough to use servants/minions who do (Yoru Sulfur, Shenkt before he split) but he doesn't do it himself - Bayaz' powers seem to have altogether harder limits in terms of endurance and the physical toll they take than those of any Eater.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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It's a throwaway joke, from what I remember. It's not some sort of Gurmish wank fantasy.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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That's not what Bayaz is.

But, eh, you're not going to go back to it.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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The Heroes is probably Abercrombie's strongest and most assured book yet - it doesn't have the scope and intricate plotting of the trilogy but it's a brilliant dissection of a single battle. Thematically very satisfying, and just very well written.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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A very good article by Alex Preston at Salon Futura, regarding The Heroes and the nihilism of violence in novels.

Preston is almost entirely unfamiliar with the fantasy genre but was very impressed by The Heroes.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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Yeah, he was a lieutenant in Jezal's regiment at the start of The Blade Itself.

John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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I didn't catch myself thinking that in that scene but it's a part of the book that I've completely forgotten. I know that SOMETHING happened there but couldn't tell you what without specifically looking up the book.

I also agree that Longfoot and Ferro are pretty weak characters, and I agree that the Union Army is made up of shorthand caricatures in the First Law trilogy. I didn't mind that, though - it seemed pretty obvious that caricature was what Abercrombie was going for in that case. The Heroes provides a lot of depth to those very same characters, since they're serving a completely different role in the story now.

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John Charity Spring
Nov 3, 2009

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Characterising all the Union generals in The Heroes as 'incompetent' is reductive and inaccurate, I think. They're not as broadly archetypical as you make out, either.

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